Ugly Incident in South Africa Evokes Painful Past.

The video invokes painful historical imagery — older and larger black women dressed in maids uniforms, sitting on their knees before several 20-something white men. Speaking in Afrikaans, the men call the women whores, and the women call the men master, a term blacks were forced to use during apartheid when addressing whites. Duped into thinking that they are competing in a South African take on “Fear Factor,” the women play rugby, a popular Afrikaner sport, dance, and eat stew laced with urine — all on tape.

The video, created by four men, (two students and two alums of Free State University, roughly 400 miles outside of Johannesburg), was allegedly prompted by the university’s efforts to integrate its dorms. The Free State was a bastion for Afrikaners during apartheid, and the campus has been simmering since the university announced its plans last fall.

The video is hard to watch. It’s hard to even write about. The video’s release, (it was actually made last fall), has sparked outrage and suggestions that 14 years out of apartheid and into democracy, South Africa hasn’t progressed very far.

When apartheid ended, these students were roughly 10 years old, old enough to remember the racist system, but young enough to personify the new South Africa. It’s disgusting the power they exercise over the university’s most vulnerable population, those with the least amount of political or economic clout, but so is the way the incident is playing out publicly.

The women have been silenced — told not to talk about the incident by the National Education Health and Allied Workers’ Union, while the students’ lawyer, Nico Naude, is saying “the whole thing is a farce” and “there was never any urine involved.”

“I can deny that there were any human rights abuses at all … This was supposed to have been shown at a ‘cultural evening’ a satire in which a multi-racial audience would have laughed at themselves.” [Cape Argus]

The same attorney told CNN that his clients have been “described, depicted and crucified” in the media as racists, and had no intention of “humiliating or degrading the employees.” I wonder what they thought they were doing instead.

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  • How is this remotely surprising? There’s no way the atrocities of that time period would have disappeared leaving no mark in 15 years, much lest 50.

    The U.S. is still struggling under the weight of slavery… 150 years later.

  • aprilleticia

    Some people aren’t surprised that this happened, especially in the Free State, but when you’re in a country with a pretty liberal constitution and where the political power rests with the mostly black ANC, it is a strong reminder that pockets of South Africa are resistant to change.

  • thandi

    I appreciate that you headed this with different words than the mainstream media has been using — they keep calling it a “racist” video, whereas to me it’s a video document of an act of torture, really, that had its genesis in race hatred. There’s a difference.
    So, so, so horrible. I applaud you for writing about, and showing, something that needs to be seen and discussed.

  • aprilleticia

    Thanks, Thandi.

  • Tasha

    They haven’t been kicked out of school?

  • So far the two current students are barred from campus pending an investigation.